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Four immigration officials charged with bribery, fraud

The officers at various border and immigration agencies took money from an attorney in exchange for providing favors for his clients, one of whom is also charged, authorities say.

May 08, 2013|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

Attorney Kwang Man "John" Lee, authorities say, was a man who could make things happen — for a price.

For a pound of marijuana and $44,000, the Koreatown attorney allegedly said, he could get an immigrant client a U.S. citizenship.

"Price is OK for the risk," Lee told an associate, according to federal authorities.

The silver-Corvette-driving attorney, a former Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, allegedly had associates at various stages of the immigration process willing to take bribes and provide favors for his clients. At Los Angeles International Airport, he had Customs and Border Protection officer Michael Anders, according to prosecutors. At Citizenship and Immigration Services, they alleged, he had officers Jesus Figueroa and Paul Lovingood. At Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he had special agent James Dominguez, according to court documents.

And he apparently had a long list of clients from across the globe, from Japan to Morocco to the Czech Republic, willing to pay the tens of thousands to cut a corner or two in the process for a permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced charges against Anders, Figueroa, Lovingood, Dominguez and a client of Lee's, Mirei Gia Hofmann. The current and former immigration officials were indicted Tuesday on charges including conspiracy, bribery, fraud and misuse of government seals. Hofmann faces a single count of immigration fraud.

Lee, who became an attorney in 1997, was previously charged in a separate criminal complaint of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government.

According to affidavits filed in the case, Lee plied the officials with lavish gifts and cash bribes in exchange for immigration benefits including forged admission stamps with a false date of entry into the U.S. and rubber-stamping fraudulent permanent residency or citizenship applications. Anders, who at one point lived with Lee, provided the attorney with a specialized security ink used by Border Patrol officials to stamp passports at airports, according to court papers.

In exchange, Lee bought round-trip tickets to Thailand for Dominguez and a 47-inch flat-screen TV and a computer for Lovingood, and gave thousands of dollars in cash to Figueroa, authorities allege. Anders was paid $50 each time he falsified an entry record, according to the indictment.

Lee complained to a confidential informant that he gets "headaches entertaining them, taking them out to dinner," according to an affidavit. He secured illegal immigration benefits for at least several dozen clients over the years, prosecutors said.

"It looks like this goes back at least 20 years," Assistant U.S. Atty. Meghan Blanco said. "By and large, it involves people who entered the country legally and then overstayed their visa."

Lovingood, who retired last year, and Dominguez surrendered to authorities Wednesday morning. The others had been arrested and are free on bond.

The defendants face maximum sentences of 10 to 80 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.

Lee and the other defendants could not be reached for comment.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.

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